The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) this week held the final public hearing regarding its proposed plan for remedial action for the former Vlasic Pickle plant near Millsboro.
The Delaware Brownfield Development Program “encourages the cleanup and redevelopment of vacant, abandoned or underutilized properties which may be contaminated.” Korean company Allen Harim Foods hopes to purchase the 107.3-acre former pickling facility and convert it into a poultry processing plant.
“The underutilization of these sites limits employment opportunities,” said attorney Elio Battista Jr., who represents Allen Harim Foods, at the Dec. 17 hearing at Millsboro Town Hall. “It is against this backdrop that Allen Harim sought the department’s assistance in the redevelopment of the site.”
The site is located at 29984 Pinnacle Way, just outside of Millsboro. Harim has entered into a Brownfield development agreement, promising to clean up hazardous contaminants left from Vlasic’s nearly 40 years of operation there, before spending an estimated $100 million to redevelop the site for its processing plant.
Through the Brownfield investigation of the Pinnacle site, sediment sampling found cyanide, mercury and toluene levels there to be above DNREC’s screening values. However, officials said that remedial action was not warranted.
“More detailed evaluation showed no remedial actions for human health or aquatic life is required,” said DNREC environmental scientist Morgan Price. “An exceedance of DNREC screening values doesn’t mean that there is a human health risk above regulatory standards,” Price emphasized. “An exceedance of DNREC screening values means that further evaluation for that contaminant is needed. DNREC’s screening values are 10 times lower than the regulatory standards and background values for some metals.”
Through 21 various groundwater samples, DNREC found that there were exceedances of the Delaware Drinking Water Standard. PCE and TCE were above the standard of one part per billion (ppb) at one monitoring well, located centrally within the site.
Price said that DNREC knows the contamination is localized because the levels of those contaminants are below standards at surrounding sampling sites.
“It is not throughout the site,” she said. “It is localized to the area around Monitoring Well 21. If the contamination was moving, it would be detected in other onsite monitoring wells.”
In deep soil sampling, one location had iron exceeding DNREC’s screening values, but it was deemed to not present a risk and did not require remedial action. Chloroform was also found to exceed standards of soil vapor samples; however, officials said that, through further study, it was determined no action would be necessary.
The Brownfield investigation also showed an exceedance of aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium and cobalt.
“While these metals were detected above the DNREC screening values for dissolved metals, they did not exceed the Delaware Drinking Water Standard,” said Price.
However, lead exceeded the standard of 15 ppb, by 2.3 ppb.
She added that nitrates were detected in several monitoring and drinking water wells onsite at levels above the Delaware Drinking Water Standard of 10 ppb, at two monitoring wells and one public well.
Price said that groundwater was the only media of environmental concern, and that DNREC proposes a long-term water-monitoring program. If further contamination or migration is detected, other remedial action could be required.
John Austin of the Inland Bays Foundation — a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulator — spoke on behalf of Protecting Our Indian River, a group comprising citizens opposing the plant.
Austin gave two presentations that outlined his concern for the site’s redevelopment, noting that he believes a plume of contaminants has been detected on neighboring properties.
“We have told the Secretary that the plume is off-site, and we have the data to show it,” Austin said. “I’m disgusted with the actions of the State with this site.”
Austin added that he was concerned that testing conducted by DNREC and BP Environmental did not look at acetic acid, which is used in the pickling process, or the alkalinity on-site.
“We do not know how far the plume has gone,” said Austin. “It’s going to take a lot more sampling of all the areas off-site to identify where the plume has gone.”
Todd Hurd, a bio-geo chemist, said that there is the suggestion of a migrating plume of contaminants and that outlining the plume on- and off-site should be done before a remediation plan is put into effect.
“It is usually unrealistic to think that a problem stops at a property boundary just because the measurements stop there,” he concluded.
Stephanie Herron of the Delaware Sierra Club traveled from Newark to attend the hearing and said there was a failure in the public participation process.
“DNREC is obligated to properly inform and be informed by the people who will be most directly impacted by the proposed Brownfield development agreement,” she said. “People have the right to know the necessary information before making decisions.”
She asserted that historical and current contamination must be addressed and fully remediated prior to the site’s redevelopment.
“I believe the citizens of Millsboro have been disproportionately impacted by the legacy pollution of several current and historic polluting facilities, which has resulted in health and economic disparities.”
Resident Jay Meyer, who is a member of Protecting Our Indian River, read from Delaware Code.
“‘In view of the rapid growth of population, agriculture, industry and other economic activities, the land, water and air resources of the state must be protected… In the interest of the people of the state of Delaware,’” he read. “I just want to make sure that, DNREC, you guys are thinking of us. With responsibility comes accountability, and you guys are responsible for our health, our welfare and the environment.”
Millsboro resident Dotty LeCates said her main concern from the beginning has been water.
“None of us can do without it. It is the most important element in the entire world,” she said. “Ninety percent of Delaware’s water — be it a pond, a stream or a bay — is polluted.”
LeCates said that she is not against Allen Harim as a company, that she is simply against the redevelopment of the Pinnacle Foods location.
“I want the governor to know that this little county has the largest land mass, and there are other locations,” she said. “The chicken industry is not going anywhere, either… We can do it where it is less contaminating and less demanding of our river. If we don’t take care of our Indian River folks, who’s going to?”
“Surely not DNREC,” responded another audience member.
Fourth-generation farmer James Baxter IV spoke in favor of the remediation plan and the redevelopment of the site.
“I played in that water. I grew up on a boat in that water. I can relate to you as a human being who does enjoy that water,” he said. “Responsibility equals accountability. Let’s think about some jobs. Let’s think about economics. I know that’s not a part of the conversation tonight…
“Let’s think about our children, and the ones who are graduating from college right now, coming home, who don’t have a job. There are 700 jobs that are going to be created right here in this county — 700 jobs,” Baxter reiterated. “Let’s put them to work. Let’s teach them responsibility.”
Dagsboro resident Ken Currie said he had reviewed the DNREC monitoring history of the Pinnacle site and noted that DNREC had five programs and six permits involved in the site. He added the department conducted 231 inspections of the facility, which had four violations over its 40-year existence.
“Why, in 30 years, did not DNREC, six programs, 231 inspections, find any of these pollutants?” asked Currie. “Why should residents now believe in long-term monitoring? Will it really result in a protection that we, as citizens, legitimately expect from state government?”
Currie added that residents have good reason to have diminished faith in DNREC’s ability to properly monitor contaminants.
“There’s a social contract between us and DNREC. We pay their salaries to protect us. Why should we trust that, in the future, they’re going to protect us, when they haven’t done so in the past?”
A report of recommendations for the site will be prepared by Robert Haynes, who presided over the hearing, and presented to DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara.
To view DNREC’s proposed plan of remedial action, visit http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/dwhs/SIRB/Lists/SIRB%20Plans%20%20Proposed..., or go to http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/dwhs/SIRB/Pages/SIRBPlans.aspx, select Dagsboro from the City drop-down menu and select DE-1555, 29984 Pinnacle Way Site. To view Austin’s presentations, visit www.inlandbaysfoundation.org.